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Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2 captures both of this summer’s movie obsessions

And it rules, honestly

An image of Barbie as a mermaid with a pink tail, sitting on an underwater throne. Image: Rainmaker Entertainment, Barbie Entertainment/Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

This summer’s slate of big movies is flanked by two huge girlhood hallmarks. On one end, we have The Little Mermaid, Disney’s latest live-action movie, which reimagines one of the most popular Disney Princesses. And on the other end, we have Barbie, the theatrical live-action debut of the most iconic doll in history.

It’s an exciting time to be someone who grew up with Barbie dolls and Ariel’s adventures on screen. But for anyone who likes to mix their pleasures, it’s an even more exciting time to remember that there’s a long tradition of Barbie as a mermaid across the dozens of direct-to-video Barbie releases out there. Barbie has been a mermaid in not one, not two, but five movies. While I won’t go into the details of all of them here (our big overview of Barbie movies is on the way soon enough), the best of them is Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2, which isn’t just a good Barbie movie and a good mermaid movie, it’s a good movie in general.

Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2 is the third of Barbie’s mermaid movies. (The first wasn’t the original Barbie in a Mermaid Tale, but Barbie Fairytopia: Mermaidia, in which Barbie played a fairy who turns into a mermaid.) You actually don’t need to watch the first Mermaid Tale to follow the action — you just need to know that in it, surfer Merliah Summers (played by Barbie, voiced by Kelly Sheridan) finds out that she’s actually half-mermaid and the crown princess of an undersea kingdom. She saves that kingdom from her nefarious aunt, reconnects with her mermaid heritage and her mother, and launches a dual life as a surfing superstar who can turn into a mermaid via magical necklace.

A group of mermaids in front of a pink and purple ocean temple. Image: Rainmaker Entertainment, Barbie Entertainment/Universal Studios Home Entertainment

In the sequel, Merliah is set to compete in a prestigious surfing competition — and reclaim her title from a new rival. But as luck would have it, this competition falls on the same day as an important mermaid tradition that her mother wants her to attend. They clash over this. That family tension gives Mermaid Tale 2 an edge over the original — and over a lot of mermaid media in general. (Though not Disney’s original Little Mermaid, which has its own family tension to navigate.)

There are many stories of mermaids who wind up on land (The Little Mermaid, Aquamarine, Splash, etc.), but there’s also a separate subset of mermaid stories about humans learning they’re part mermaid (H2O, The Thirteenth Year, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea). So many of those stories focus on the revelation, and end before interrogating what happens after. There should be an inherent cultural clash in spending your whole life as an ordinary human, only to find out that — surprise! — you’re actually part mythological being.

That’s where Mermaid Tale 2 really shines. Yes, Merliah is thrilled to reconnect with her mother and find out more about being a mermaid, but also, she is still a human. She has legs and she lives on land. She doesn’t understand how important the sacred traditions of mermaid culture are, but at the same time, her mother doesn’t get how important this one surf competition is to her. The movie plays out like a fantastical allegory for a second-generation immigrant story, where both sides must work to understand each other.

Image: Rainmaker Entertainment, Barbie Entertainment/Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Mermaid Tale 2 also shines when it comes to the relationship between Merliah and her rival, Kylie. Tense rivalries are one of the many recurring tropes of Barbie movies, but not all Barbie movie rivalries are created equal. They’re often uneven, with the rival hating Barbie’s character (usually because of a boy) and Barbie’s character being uninterested in the conflict. But Merliah and Kylie are top athletes in the same field, determined to be the best at what they do. That immediately makes their relationship richer — and means that when they’re eventually forced to work together and understand each other, their resulting friendship is all the more satisfying.

Mermaid Tale 2 came out in 2012, so it doesn’t quite generate the nostalgia of titles like Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper or Barbie as Rapunzel. At the same time, it also doesn’t have the recency of something like Barbie: Epic Road Trip, one of the better Netflix interactive stories. So it’s likely that this is just one of the many direct-to-video Barbie movies that slipped through the cracks, at least for anyone who wasn’t in the exact age demographic for Barbie movies when it came out. Still, it’s a hidden gem for Barbie fans, representing the best of Barbie movies and the best of mermaid movies, and it captures the zeitgeist of this summer perfectly.

Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2 is available to rent on Prime Video.

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